Look, I don’t make the rules. When inkle releases a new game, I’ll be there. The folks at inkle have a fantastic knack for narrative adventures that feel so much bigger than the limits of their design, and Overboard! ($ 5.99) is no exception. It’s the classic crime set-up: a passenger ship makes its way to New York across the ocean. The night before the ship is due to enter port, one of the people on board is killed. Will the killer be caught or will they get away with their heinous crime? It’s up to you, but not in the way you might think.
See, in that particular story, you are the killer. Veronica Villensey has had enough of her loveless marriage. She helps her husband get a closer look at the waves and he must have enjoyed it because he has not returned. With eight hours remaining before the ship reaches New York, Veronica must ensure that not only can she get away with her crime, but that she can benefit from her husband’s generous life insurance policy. It’s not the largest ship, but there are enough people out there that you need to be very careful about how you go about it. You must use the limited time you have to cover your tracks.
You can move around the ship freely, talk to anyone you can find, and take various actions depending on your location. Everything takes some time and everyone else on the ship follows their own schedules and routines. Some events can only be triggered if you are in the right place at the right time, and sometimes only if you have done certain things in advance. This makes the whole thing feel pretty organic, especially on the first few iterations. It’s impossible to be everywhere at the same time, so you need to figure out who knows what and how to deal with it. When the time comes everyone will gather and you will see how well you did it.
In the likely event that you don’t get the best possible result on the first try, you will automatically go to your next run. Veronica will have something on her mind that will give you a clue of what to do this time, and the game has a few handy points for you to explore. It never tells you exactly what to do, but the clues will at least get you on track so you don’t repeat your mistakes over and over again. It’s one of those little touches that makes it easy to keep playing over and over, part of an excellent user interface that is both functional and stylish.
All of this is underpinned by some fantastic lyrics that bring these motley characters to life in a spectacular way. Veronica is, of course, the star of the show. She is a devilish woman who somehow manages to bewitch. You have a lot of control over the general flow of their conversations, but their words are definitely their own most of the time, especially when it comes to dolphins. You won’t have that much time with the other characters, but they shine in their own way. The talkative, conspiratorial Lady Armstrong. The honorable, accomplished Major Singh. The dashing officer Anders. God. Yes you can talk to god. Even if Almighty Veronica is not particularly interested, you can get some hints and laughs while visiting the ship’s chapel.
The thing is, the more you dig into one of these characters, the more you discover. You can easily overlook the presence of entire characters depending on what you’re doing. You certainly won’t find out all of their secrets if you don’t find the right way to steal. But do you need to find out all of their filth? Well, it can’t hurt to have a few aces up your sleeve. But sometimes it’s just interesting to see where things are going. After all, it doesn’t take that long to do a single run. Surely you can dedicate a few to get to know each one a little better? You have to gather a lot of information to find the best possible ending. So think of it as serving the common good.
Overboard !, like some of the best adventure games, turns an initially very compact space into a complicated world. A puzzle box that gives back as much as you are ready to put in it. That everything is handled with the usual panache of inkle only makes it better. Do you think you have what it takes to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and get away with murder? Pick up this game and do your best.